Anthony Davis may say he doesn’t care if anyone thinks he’s soft, but he clearly does burn to help the Lakers win. That was clear when he took full responsibility for the team’s Game 1 loss to the Phoenix Suns to open the first round of the NBA playoffs, but it was also evident in the way he tried to fight his way back from his earlier calf and Achilles injuries.
Davis missed nearly nine weeks after originally trying to play through the injuries, a period of time that put him around three weeks past the Lakers’ original estimate for his return. But according to Kyle Goon of the O.C. Register, Davis’ body wasn’t responding well to their original ramp-up efforts, leading to the delay:
A four- to six-week timeline was set, but Davis’ calf didn’t much care for it. At the four-week mark, Davis said, he did box jump tests that caused him pain after just 10 reps. The Lakers had to push back his return, and behind the scenes, he quietly worked with trainer Jon Ishop (“Ish”) to build his strength. Davis said a knee procedure he went through in 2016, which kept him sidelined for six months, prepared him for the mental grind.
He worked on his conditioning with climbing machines, ski machines and inertia bands. He also had the chance to do the weightlifting regimen that he normally would have done in the offseason: “I don’t want to say it was a blessing in disguise,” Davis said, “but it was sort of like a minicamp for the summer I didn’t have.”
Davis may feel that way now, but he didn’t in the moment. According to Goon, Davis tried to come back 10 days before he ultimately did, but it was the team who said “no” and wanted him to give himself more time to heal:
If anything, it was the Lakers keeping Davis from rejoining the lineup – not Davis himself. He hoped to return when the team was in New York. He lobbied to play the second of back-to-back games against Utah in mid-April.
“Could A.D. play at 95 percent? Sure. Is it worth losing him to injury? No,” Penberthy said. “Is A.D. soft? Heck no. He wants to play every night. But he also trusts us, and there were moments where Ish and I were saying, ‘Bro, this is not the night.’”
Now, first of all, this story was published the day before Game 1, so this is not the Lakers making postgame excuses for Davis in the wake of his poor performance to open the first round. But what it does illustrate again is that Davis really does want to help this team, even when he’s not fully healthy.
Davis is currently playing through what the team has only termed a right shoulder sprain, and has claimed he’s not thinking about his previous injuries, but it’s getting harder not to wonder if he is physically limited in some way. We can all debate whether the Lakers should go small, or which center they should play next to Davis until the cows come home, but none of it matters when Davis has looked like a shell of himself no matter what lineup he’s in for seven of the last eight quarters.
Will he be able to turn it around? Who knows. But for the sake of his career and the Lakers’ long-term future, it is good news that the team at least appears like they’ll prioritize Davis’ health over his desire to play if he is too limited to go out there. We’ll see whether that’s to blame — or if he actually has just played bad and is capable of improving — as the series continues.